We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

A scene from Game of Thrones HBO
Game of Thrones

Hackers demand millions in ransom for stolen HBO data

They’ve threatened to upload entire series and sensitive proprietary files.

A GROUP OF hackers have posted a fresh cache of stolen HBO files online and demanded a multimillion-dollar ransom from the network to prevent the release of entire television series and other sensitive proprietary files.

HBO, which had previously acknowledged the theft of “proprietary information”, said it’s continuing to investigate and is working with police and cybersecurity experts.

In a five-minute video from ‘Mr Smith’ to HBO CEO Richard Plepler included in the dump, the hackers used white text scrolling on a black background to deliver an ultimatum. In short: Pay up within three days or see the group, which claims to have stolen 1.5 terabytes of HBO shows and confidential corporate data, upload entire series and sensitive proprietary files.

Specifically, the hackers demanded “our six-month salary in bitcoin”, and claimed they earn $12 million to $15 million (about €10 million to €12.7 million) a year from blackmailing organisations whose networks they have penetrated. They said they would only deal directly with “Richard” and only send one “letter” detailing how to pay.

The dump itself was just 3.4 gigabytes — mostly technical data that appears to provide a topography of HBO’s network and to list network administrator passwords.

It includes what appear to be draft scripts from five Game of Thrones episodes, including one upcoming episode, and a month’s worth of emails apparently from the account of Leslie Cohen, HBO’s vice president for film programming.

The network reiterated yesterday that it doesn’t believe its email system as a whole has been compromised.

‘HBO Is Falling’

The video text was written in often flawed but fluent English peppered with misspellings and pop-culture references.

The hackers claimed it took them about six months to breach HBO’s network. Their biggest threat appears to be dumping videos of future shows online with their logo ‘HBO Is Falling’ superimposed.

Many of the more than 50 internal documents in the dump were labelled “confidential”, including a spreadsheet of legal claims against the network, job offer letters to several top executives, slides discussing future technology plans and a list of 37,977 emails called ‘Richard’s Contact list’, an apparent reference to Plepler.

One screenshot labeled ‘Highly Confidential’ by the hackers listed folders such as ‘Penguin Random House’, ‘Licensing & Retail’, ‘Legal’, ‘International’ and ‘Budgets’. Another document appears to contain the confidential cast list for Game of Thrones, listing personal phone numbers and email addresses for actors such as Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke.

So far, however, the HBO leaks have been limited, falling well short of the chaos inflicted on Sony in 2014. In that attack, hackers possibly associated with North Korea unearthed thousands of embarrassing emails. They released personal information, including salaries and social security numbers, of nearly 50,000 current and former Sony employees.

The video letter uploaded yesterday claimed the hackers spend $500,000 (about €423,000) a year to purchase “zero-day” exploits that let them break into networks through holes not yet know to Microsoft and other software companies. It claims HBO is the hackers’ 17th target and that only three of their past targets refused to pay.

Read: 9/11 victim’s remains identified nearly 16 years later

Read: 83-year-old man stabbed to death while walking his dogs

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Associated Foreign Press
Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.